The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 31, 2014

My Turn: What now for Midd-West?


For The Daily Item

— I write today to respond to the letter/manifesto/diatribe that was written by former Midd-West Superintendent Wesley Knapp.

I am a parent of two children in the district. For the last 15 years, I have also been pastor to many teachers and staff, and families with children in the district. I currently coach an afterschool program at Middleburg Elementary. I believe I can speak with an interest in the well-being of the district.

I can understand Mr. Knapp’s desire to respond to charges that were printed. It is unfortunate that of all the space he was afforded, he replied only to one, and only indirectly. The matter of his degree status coming from a credentialed source as opposed to a diploma mill was not actually addressed. Instead he made reference to himself as the most educated superintendent we’ve had, or likely will ever have. That was not an answer to the charge of misrepresentation of education. His letter begins with a tone of defiance and arrogance, as if we should be begging someone of his high stature to come back.

The rest of the letter was part hysterical defense to charges that were not leveled, and part paranoid political rant. Not once in the original charges did I recall reading an attack on his status as a Christian. Yet, we were given a half-page proclamation of what a solid upstanding Christian he is. I am certain that such an educated man is familiar with the words of Shakespeare, who might posit “the (gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks.”

Having been a pastor for some years now, I have yet to meet one of these perfect sinless Christians that Mr. Knapp is certain he is.

Would the gentleman be willing to address the charges as laid out? Or was it implied in his piece that now he has cause for legal action, and would do best to not address them outside of a courtroom?

I do not possess proof of the charges myself. I have no idea how they came to be released to the public. What I can say as a resident/parent in the district, is that I have little trouble believing that Mr. Knapp was disingenuous in matters concerning the closing and sale of local schools. It was clear to us that the single-campus agenda would be his legacy regardless of public opinion, and that he would find a board to do his bidding. When board members changed and questions were raised, Mr. Knapp grew increasingly dismissive, smug, and condescending to opposition.

I began to pay closer attention to Mr. Knapp’s public statements after the suicide of Brandon Bitner. I was unimpressed with his regard for such a tragedy, whether a Christian or not. I advised an administrator in a different district that if they ever have a similar tragedy, make note of Wesley Knapp’s actions and words, and do the opposite.

It became clear to me through his many columns in local papers that Mr. Knapp had much more interest in politics than education.

I believe that now you are relieved of the school responsibilities, you may put your energy into running for office, or, judging by the paranoid ramblings about America becoming Nazi Germany, perhaps becoming a syndicated radio host.

Upon the resignation of Mr. Knapp, many contacted me personally to see if I was rejoicing. My comment was that the damage has been done. His single-minded agenda to close local schools will not be reversed.

And yet, this has not solved any problems for our district, as the supposed changes to curriculum that would to aid in our students’ performance on the PSSAs have not happened. As I write this, our students are taking the PSSAs. I have been witness to the anxiety of many students in the elementary grades over this test. District-wide administration is definitely applying pressure to teachers on the importance of this test, as our district was such a poor performer last year. It is only natural that this anxiety flows down to the students.

And yet, the classroom teachers’ and students’ hands are tied by curriculum direction. This was a problem under Mr. Knapp, and remains in his departure.

I am hopeful that the culture of fear and worry will begin to shift in Midd-West. I am hopeful that the new superintendent search will be helpful. My wife was in attendance at the first round of focus groups, and sadly, they were poorly attended. Mr. Knapp’s personal protestations may continue to be a matter for public consumption and debate. But with children in first and fourth grade, my priority is certainly on “what now?”

Andrew Weaver is the Pastor St. John Lutheran Parish, Mount Pleasant Mills and Richfield